10 novel premises challenge

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Two years ago I joined this novel-writing course at The Novelry called Write a Novel in a Year. At the time, I was waffling between two projects.

The first was a retelling of Cinderella called Spiderella. You can probably guess the premise from the title. Instead of a princess, her fairy godspider transformed Spiderella into a giant black widow spider.

The second was a retelling of the Hymn to Demeter that centered the story on her daughter Persephone, the Greek goddess of spring and eventual wife of Hades.

After mulling it over for a week or so, I decided to focus on the Persephone story. Over the year, I produced a copious amount of outline. But when it came time to start drafting, I got stuck. I couldn’t find the right narrator.

So I extended my membership in the course another year. Then I proceeded to waste the year diddling around not making much progress at all. That was the end of my participation in The Novelry.

So at the start of 2023, I found myself at yet another crossroads — plod ahead with Persephone or start over from scratch.

I choose the second option. Yet rather than come up with another novel premise, I resolved to come up with ten of them. I then hired a development editor on Reedsy to read over these 10 premises, comment on them, and select which 3 they felt were the most promising. The editor’s name is Michael Carr. You can check out his profile on Reedsy here (note: you must be signed in with an account to view his profile).

It took me a couple of months to produce them.

Without further ado, here are the 10 premises I shared with him:

Premise #1: Qubit & Tokamak

Two alien AIs, one an enthusiastic scientist named Qubit, the other a cautious soldier named Tokamak, are on a mission to Earth to find, in one year’s time, The Rep — the very best Earthling — who is to return with them to their home world at year’s end to take The Test. If the Earthling passes The Test, Earth will be admitted into The Club — an elite galactic federation of advanced civilizations. If they fail The Test, Earth will be Held Back.

To smooth their reception, just before they make contact, a powerful machine on their ship called The Shaper will transform them temporarily into super-capable Earthlings. But secret forces in The Club have conspired to sabotage the mission. The ship crashes near a suburban American middle school. Their tech gets trashed, including The Shaper. They just barely manage to get transformed into an averaged-out 12-year-old girl and boy. Now they have to figure out how to complete, against impossible odds, their mission — all the while negotiating the hair-raising trials of sixth grade.

Premise #2: Persephone, or Springs Eternal

Like a new shoot reaching toward the sun, Persephone longs for her father Zeus’s approval. Unfortunately, having lived her entire life within the cushy confines of a finishing school for young goddesses called Paradeisos, she’s clueless about the ways of the Kosmos. On Mount Olympos, Persephone, goddess of spring, is an afterthought.

When she learns that another of Zeus’s many, many offspring, good-girl Hebe, is to marry the puffed-up mortal-made-god Herakles, she resolves to take Hebe’s place at her father’s court as the next Cupbearer to the Gods. Surely then he’ll notice her.

Little does she know that checked-out Zeus and his conniving brother Hades — bitter rivals — have made other plans for her, plans that will not only tear her from her pampered life, but by stirring the wrath of Persephone’s petulant mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, may destroy the world of mortals — and along with it, the Olympians’ reign.

With the help of her devoted governess Galea (a talking weasel) and a Goth frenemy named Hekate, Persephone must find a way to escape Hades’s gilded cage in the Underworld, appease her mother’s wrath, and save the arrogant gods from their own folly — before it’s all too late.

Premise #3: Hairy Squatter and the Scientist’s Groan

Hairy Squatter is a bookish twelve-year-old orphan whose great ambition in life is to become a world-renowned cultural critic. While happily working his way through all three volumes of Karl Marx’s magnum opus, Das Kapital, in the bohemian comforts of his Aunt and Uncle Worsley’s garrett, Hairy learns that his flaky billionaire parents have arranged posthumously for him to attend Pigzits Academy of Pseudoscience and Magical Thinking, an elite boarding school for the wealthy technocratic elite.

Once enrolled at Pigzits, he quickly discovers there’s nothing he can do to get expelled. His folks’ obscene donation to the school’s endowment all but ensures that. Soon enough, the perks of campus life — not unlike a luxury resort — start to erode his solidarity with the working classes. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure named Moldywart seeks a potent talisman called the Scientist’s Groan, hidden somewhere on campus. If he gets his grubby redistributive mitts on it, Moldywart could destroy Pigzits and all it stands for.

Will Hairy stay true to his ideals or join the CEO of Pigzits, Bulbous Stumblesnore, in hunting down Moldywart before he can launch a socialist revolution?

Premise #4: Love Potion #8

How do you know when love is real?

Rosalinda Candado is a painfully shy sixth-grader with a talent for biochemistry. All year, she’s been harboring an all-consuming yet secret crush. When she works up the courage to ask her crush to the school Valentine’s dance, she’s devastated when they politely refuse.

Using her scientific know-how, Rosalinda invents a love potion that will compel her beloved to feel for her what she feels for them.

The potion works! At the dance, they sip the potion and fall for her. Hard. But in an unfortunate mishap, the remainder of the potion spills into the punch bowl. Nearly all the school partakes. Romantic chaos ensues.

Now Rosalinda must fix the mess she’s made, while setting her paramour right. If she fails, she’ll be alone forever, the biggest outcast in school history. She may even go to jail.

Premise #5: Striker

Striker is a tween cobra with a short temper who lives in rural South India but longs to find his place in the wider world. Something else is holding him back: due to a painful run-in when he was just a hatchling, he has a permanent crook in his tail — as well as a paralyzing fear of boots.

One cool evening, in a dirt lot on the outskirts of the nearby village, Striker spies children playing a wondrous game where they kick a ball around with their bare feet. He falls in love with this game and vows then and there — even though he has no feet, even though the villagers are terrified of cobras — to master what they call “football.”

With the help of a defiant girl named Leela, Striker is accepted by the children — and learns to play beside them. It turns out they’re practicing for a special game held annually just before the monsoon. Their formidable opponent is a team of mercenaries organized by the local landowners. Every year, the landowners use winning the game as an excuse to raise taxes on the poor farmers who work their land. To guarantee a win, they have no qualms with warping the rules of the game in their favor.

But the children soon realize that Striker has a rare gift for scoring goals. With the cobra as their starting center forward, maybe, just maybe, the villagers will finally have a fighting chance…

Premise #6: Four Square

Buddy Bonzen is a boastful klutz who thinks he’s a world-class athlete. At school recess, the most popular game is Four Square. Naturally, Buddy thinks he’s the best. Whenever a game doesn’t go his way — and they never do — he taps into a bottomless well of world-class excuses.

But Buddy isn’t completely unlikeable. Raised by a loving yet fragile single mom, he feels he should take care of her. When he finds out she needs an expensive operation her insurance won’t cover, he promises to pay for it. But how? His school may offer a way.

Buddy attends Sweeet Success Middle School, an experiment in public-private partnership. The school is sponsored by Sweeet Corp., makers of top-selling snacks, candies, and soft drinks. To boost key performance metrics, Sweeet Corp. has monetized every facet of the school — from textbooks to uniforms to bathroom tissue. If the pilot succeeds, Sweeet Corp. hopes to roll this highly profitable sponsorship model out nationwide.

Every four years, Ollie Gark, the CEO of Sweeet Corp., hosts on the grounds of his sprawling mansion the Four Square World Cup. The champion gets a cash prize — why, just enough for a medical procedure. Buddy vows to win it — for his mom. Little does he know the competition is fixed. Gark’s sponsored ringers always win.

When the tournament gets underway, Buddy is forced to accept the fact that his Four Square skills are woefully inadequate. He must then do the one thing he’s never been able to bring himself to do — ask for help.

Will Buddy rise to the occasion or will Ollie Gark get the better of him, his mom, and everyone else at Sweeet Success Middle School?

Premise #7: The Bottomless Credit Card

Lakshmi Debere is an insecure kid who’s starting fifth grade at a new school. Eager to be liked, she brags about how much money she has stashed away in her piggy bank — cash gifts from doting aunties at Diwali or Christmas. But her new classmates are more interested in iPhones than money, which they can all easily mooch from their loaded parents.

After a relentless campaign, her folks agree to buy her a phone — but only if she earns half herself. And she’s not allowed to use her gift money. How unfair! Lakshmi makes a half-hearted effort to earn the cash through odd jobs around the house and babysitting. But at the rate she’s saving, she’ll be an auntie herself before she has enough. Meanwhile, her would-be friends are forming tight bonds through their phones.

So Lakshmi decides to take matters into her own hands. She secretly logs onto her mom’s Amazon account and orders a phone for herself, confident she can hide all evidence of the purchase. The plan backfires. Her furious parents confiscate her piggy bank.

Bereft and desperate, Lakshmi wishes on her namesake, the Goddess Lakshmi, that she never lacks for money. The next morning under her pillow, she finds a mysterious gold card. It’s a magic credit card. With no limit!

Lakshmi promptly goes on an epic spending spree that spirals further out of her control. Will she find a way to set things right before she disappoints her family, alienates her classmates — and crashes the entire global economy?

Premise #8: Stuporhero!

Avery Maelstrom is a ten-year-old nerd who’s obsessed with superheroes. Especially the ones featured in the Wonder Multiverse. He’s streamed all the movies, read all the comics, and snapped up all the tie-in merchandise. Avery would love nothing more than to be magically transported to the Wonder Multiverse and live out the rest of his charmed life there.

But when Avery unexpectedly earns an A for an impassioned essay about the need for superheroes, he vows to give up all his collections — in return for one sign — just one — that superheroes are real.

Then one afternoon, trying his best not to levitate down the road to school vaporizing supervillains with nuclear nostrils, Avery collides with an otherworldly figure who calls himself Mephisto. Mephisto offers to transform Avery into the superhero of his dreams. The catch? There’s no catch. Mephisto is lonely and just wants someone to talk to. An equal. A friend.

Avery accepts the offer — and becomes Stuporhero, the ultimate superhero because he has the ability to take on at any time any superpower he wants. But he quickly learns that none of the rules he knows by heart from the Wonder Multiverse apply here in the real world. In fact, it turns out that being this powerful isn’t exciting or fun at all. It’s a terrible burden. And the more he tries to do the right thing, the more of a mess he makes. Now, with his new and only buddy’s unhelpful help, Avery has to find a way to restore order to the world before it collapses under the crushing weight of Stuporhero’s very existence.

Premise #9: Parental Abduction

Affinity Thews is a brilliant tween who’s perpetually put-upon by the absurd demands and unfounded accusations of her ridiculous parents. Her credo in life is: “not my fault, not my job.” Her trademark expression is the eye-roll.

One day, Affinity notices her parents are acting strange. They’re no longer making demands — do your homework, clean your room, set the table. They’re being nice. Like, too nice. Affinity soon discovers that not only her parents but all the parents in town are acting this way — super-creepy nice. With the help of her two best friends, Affinity vows to get to the bottom of this mystery.

After some perilous poking around, they discover that their folks have been replaced — by replica androids. It’s the handiwork of invading aliens, who’ve abducted their actual parents. And, much to Affinity’s embarrassment, the whole mess is probably her fault!

Now Affinity has a job that only she can do. She must track down her parents — last seen shuffling into a new office park on the outskirts of town — and rescue them from the aliens before they complete their bizarre plan for world domination.

Premise #10: The Sad But 100% Completely True Tale of Lester, Court Jester, as told by his Faithful Cousin Sir Aliyah, Knight Errant

Lester Abdullah is a 12-year-old day-dreamer who prefers medieval fantasy — kings and princesses, knights and dragons, warlocks and maidens — to the real world of math worksheets, braces, and gym shorts. Lester’s parents have tasked his younger cousin Aliyah, a committed realist, with protecting Lester from the bullies lurking in the dank halls of middle school.

When Lester decides he’d rather be a knight than a student, he starts wearing a suit of novelty plate armor left over from Ren Faire to all his classes. Aliyah can’t save him from a horde of fuzzy-lipped eighth-graders who toss Lester helm-first into a dumpster.

As Aliyah struggles to pull Lester out from under bags full of Ren Faire refuse, a magic portal opens. Out pops, in fancy squire garb, a talking opossum. The beast beckons Lester to return with her to the Magic Kingdom of Fief at the invitation of her master, a powerful wizard who serves the king who rules there. It turns out King Courtois needs Lester for a Very Special Quest.

He eagerly accepts the invitation. Aliyah reluctantly follows. But they soon discover that Fief is not like any of the medieval fantasy realms Lester’s so familiar with. As he and Aliyah pursue the king’s quest, they become embroiled in a sweeping conspiracy that threatens to swallow all of Fief in eternal silliness. Besieged by foes from all quarters, Lester’s dream of being the king’s champion will be put to the ultimate test — while challenging Aliyah to let go of her disdain for all things fantastical.

Which 3 would you choose and in what order?

I’ll share with you later which of these Michael included in his Top 3.

Confessions of a Hallway Hustler cover

Confessions of a Hallway Hustler

Another Shameless Wimpy Kid Parody
By Jest Ninney

Confessions of a Hallway Hustler is the rollicking tale of Anton Altanero, a foreign transplant with delusions of grandeur, navigating the wilds of a typical American middle school. It's Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Scarface, without the guns but with all the greed and ambition.

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2 thoughts on “10 novel premises challenge”

  1. Premise 8. I can imagine how easy it would be to misstep with the powers and struggle to make things right. There must be many themes around teen, preteen issues to explore.

    • Thanks for voting! I like that you see the implications of the premise so clearly. As you say, there are so many themes to tease out from it. One is tweens & teens expanding their agency, their power in the world. Another is the dangers of wish fulfillment — chasing dreams of wealth, status, power. Another is our culture’s obsession with those it deems extraordinary — celebrity culture — often at the cost of making the rest of us feel invisible.


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